Surviving Riding Book

Getting Your License
Why You Need Training
Defensive Riding
Maintenance: T-CLOCS
Group Riding
Passengers and Cargo
Dangerous Circumstances
Handling Special Situations
DoD Safety Rules
Tools and References



Your motorcycle must “fit”: your feet should reach the ground while you are seated, and the controls should be easy to operate. Smaller, lighter, less powerful motorcycles are easier for beginners.

Naked (Standard) Bike: Stripped down to fundamentals. Emphasizes function, performance, and ergonomics. Good for beginners, less prone to damage.

Cruisers: Rider’s feet are forward, hands up and spine erect or leaning back slightly. More comfortable for long-distance riding. May have limited turning ability because of low-slung design.

Sport Bikes: Much smaller and lighter. Designed to emphasize speed and handling. The rider’s feet are back, hands low, and spine inclined forward. Capable of high speeds, very stable in corners. Require higher level of riding skill.

Touring Bikes: For long-distance touring and commuting. Large wind screens protect against wind and weather, large capacity fuel tanks, and a more relaxed, upright seating position.

Dual-Purpose Bikes: Lightweight, with smaller engines. High clearance, rugged body construction. Large wheels with semi-knobby tires for occasional off-road jaunts.


Buying a used motorcycle may be a good way to get started. An effective strategy is to start riding on a smaller bike, and once you’ve gained significant experience, consider shopping for a bigger one.

When shopping for a used bike, you may want to take an experienced rider with you or take the bike to a certified mechanic.

Here are a few tips to remember when checking out a used motorcycle:

  1. Check for oil leaks – this could indicate the need for engine repairs.
  2. Check the tire wear – tires are the single most important component on your motorcycle. Make sure they are properly inflated and have sufficient tread remaining.
  3. Check for dents and scratches – this is an indication that the bike may have been involved in an accident. Bent lights and foot pegs are also signs.
  4. Check filters and fluids – this is one way to tell if the owner has taken proper care of the bike.
  5. Check the drive chain – if it is dry or rusty, it’s probably worn out and needs to be replaced. A new chain will cost upwards of $100 or more without installation.
  6. Check all lights – lights should be in working order for you to take the bike out on the street.
  7. Check the brakes – both brakes should be in working order. Check each alone to keep the bike from rolling.
  8. Check the transmission – ensure a smooth transition into all gears up and down occurs while test riding.

Remember, when buying a used bike – it’s buyer beware!

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You must have a motorcycle endorsement on your license. Check with your state division of motor vehicles for requirements.

States require two kinds of tests:

  1. Written – Tests your knowledge of information. You must know road rules and safe riding practices.
  2. Riding – Tests your on-cycle skills. Conducted in traffic or in an off-street area.

Some states waive one or both of these tests if you complete the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic RiderCourse (BRC), or other license waiver course.

The Riding Test

Covers the basic skills of controlling your motorcycle, avoiding crashes, and handling normal and hazardous traffic situations.

Tests your knowledge of your motorcycle and your ability to:

  • Accelerate, brake and turn.
  • See, be seen and communicate.
  • Adjust speed and position in traffic.;
  • Stop, turn and swerve.

Examiners score on safety factors such as:

  • Selecting safe speeds to perform maneuvers.
  • Choosing the correct path and staying within a prescribed path.


Registration varies from state to state. All require the title to your motorcycle or a certificate of ownership from the financing company. You will have to pay for a license plate and, in some states, pay personal property tax based on the value of the machine.


All states require liability insurance. Some companies give a discount if you’ve taken a RiderCourse.

In many states, it is illegal to register if you don’t have insurance.

You can also get other coverage on you and your bike: comprehensive, collision, medical payments, uninsured driver, and more. Ask your insurance agent what each type of coverage can do for you, and how much it will cost.

The better your driving record and the older you are, the less costly the insurance.

Riders under age 28 and sport bike riders have higher rates. Larger engines can also increase the cost.

If you are making payments on your motorcycle, you must have it fully protected by insurance.

  • Select an insurance company carefully. Look for one that specializes in motorcycle insurance.
  • Young, first-time motorcycle riders may find it hard to buy affordable insurance, especially if they ride a sport bike. You may pay as much as 50 percent of the cost of the bike for insurance every year.

Sport bikes are expensive to insure for any rider and may cost thousands of dollars a year to insure. They may be readily damaged even in minor spills. The expensive plastic body covering on these bikes can cost thousands of dollars to replace.

Different companies charge a variety of rates for the same model.

It doesn’t matter if you know someone who says they only pay $100 per year for insurance. Call and get your own quotes for coverage.

Most insurance companies base their rates on where you live, your age and driving history, and the size and type of bike you own. Many young, inexperienced riders on expensive bikes may pay higher rates are or not eligible for coverage with some companies.

If you are a young, first-time rider, and you absolutely have to have a sport bike, consider starting out on a small, light model. Most of the smaller sport bikes look nearly identical to their larger stablemates. There’s always a market for used bikes so you shouldn’t have any problem selling or trading your bike when you decide to trade up.

When you are shopping for insurance, get quotes for insurance for both you and the bike.

Some insurance companies provide a discount for successful completion of the Basic RiderCourse (BRC) and Advanced RiderCourses (ARC).

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Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Motorcyclists are:

  • Exposed to heat, cold, rain, and road debris.
  • Compared to car drivers, much more susceptible to serious injury in a crash, even a minor one.

Mandatory gear for riders and passengers:

  • A helmet manufactured to meet U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) or Snell standards
  • Eye protection that meets ANSI code Z87.1
  • Long pants and long-sleeve shirt
  • Sturdy, over-the-ankle footwear
  • Full-fingered gloves


Whether or not your state has a mandatory helmet law, all Soldiers and DoD civilians must
wear a helmet every time they ride.

Whether or not your state has a mandatory helmet law, all Soldiers and DoD civilians must
wear a helmet every time they ride.

NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,784 motorcyclists’ lives in 2007, and that 800 more could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.

Choosing the Right Helmet

Make sure it fits before you buy. It shouldn’t move or slip, and it should be comfortable. Three basic styles:

  1. Full-face helmet – Covers the head, chin and jaw. Movable face shield protects your face from wind and debris
  2. Three-quarter or open-face helmet – Same basic components but less protection for your face and chin.
  3. Partial coverage (or “half”) helmets – Expose more of the lower jaw, sides, and back of your head.
  4. Beware of “novelty” helmets – These helmets typically have an inadequate impact impact-absorbing foam liner and offer no real protection in a crash.

Standards and Ratings

Make sure there’s an official DOT or Snell Memorial Foundation (a private helmet-testing group) certification sticker on the helmet, signifying that it meets or exceeds test standards.

When to Replace a Helmet

  • It has sustained an impact.
  • If it is a few years old. Age, repeated use and ultraviolet rays may make a helmet less effective.

Reasons to Always Wear a Helmet

  • Most crashes happen on short trips (less than five miles long) and at speeds slower than 30 mph.
  • Helmeted riders are three times more likely to survive head injuries than those not wearing helmets.

Eye Protection

It does not take much to injure your eyes and riding without proper eye protection is risky.

  • Proper eye protection means an approved shield on your helmet, a pair of goggles or shatterproof glasses.
  • A windshield on a motorcycle is not eye protection: a bit of sand or tiny piece of glass can whip in behind it and get in your eye.

Make sure your eye protection is clean and unscratched. If you use a tinted lens or shield for riding in the bright sunlight, take a clear one along as well, in case you are riding after dark.


Your goals: comfort, protection, and visibility.

  • Leather offers better abrasion resistance and breathability. Textiles are more weatherproof, better when it’s cold, and are usually cheaper.
  • Fit determines both comfort and protection. Riding clothes must fit more snugly than your usual clothing.
  • Jackets for sport bikes have a shorter front, so that when you lean over on the bike, it won’t push the shoulders up. The back is longer, so that it won’t pull up.
  • Brightly colored clothing with retro-reflective materials or a reflective vest makes you more visible during the day, and especially at night.


Over-the-ankle boots provide the best protection for your feet, ankles, and shins, and are least likely to come off in a crash.

Boots protect your feet from road debris and from burns caused by hot exhaust pipes.

Rubber soles provide good grip on the pavement when you’re stopped and help keep your feet on the footrests while riding.

Types of boots:

  • Street riding (touring): Padded toe, ankle, heel and shin areas. Engineered for comfort and style off-the-bike as much as for protection during a crash.;
  • Competition (racing): Additional protection including hard armor over critical areas. Rigid support, can be uncomfortable when walking around.

  • Protect you from the weather.
  • Give you a better hold on the handgrips.
  • Minimize cuts and bruises in a crash.

Lightly padded gloves provide more freedom of motion but sacrifice protection. Fully armored racing gloves provide the best protection but may be uncomfortable for longer rides.

Gloves that are too bulky make it hard to operate the motorcycle’s controls.

Gloves that are too tight can restrict circulation and cause your hands to lose feeling or be overly sensitive to temperature.

Hearing Protection

Long-term exposure to engine and wind noise can cause permanent hearing damage, even if you wear a full-face helmet.

Whether you choose disposable foam plugs or reusable custom-molded devices, proper protection reduces noise, while allowing you to hear important sounds like car horns.

Make sure you follow your state’s laws when using hearing protection.

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Why You Need Training

  • More than half of the riders who wrecked had less than five months experience on the motorcycle they were riding.
  • Motorcyclist errors, usually while riding through a curve, are the primary cause of accidents that don’t involve another vehicle.
  • In an emergency, untrained or inexperienced riders tend to:
    • over-brake and skid the rear tire.
    • under-brake the front tire.

These two errors make it harder to stop.

  • Untrained motorcyclists may not understand or haven’t practiced how to effectively use the brakes.
  • Untrained riders don’t know how to instinctively swerve around an object. And, because they don’t understand counter-steering, they steer their motorcycles into the objects they are trying to avoid.
  • Wrecks in intersections usually occur when a car turns left into the path of the motorcyclist. The driver is usually at fault, but alert riders could have avoided many of these crashes. In any case, it’s the rider who suffers the most.

Source: “The Hurt Report “ or “Motorcycle Accident Factors and Identification of Countermeasures,” 1981. Study initiated by the DOT’s NHTSA through the University of California’s Traffic Safety Center.


Many riders never learn the critical skills needed to ride safely. A study of 1,100 accidents found that 92 percent of motorcyclists were either self-taught or trained by family or friends.

Professional training prepares you for real-world traffic situations. MSF RiderCourses are taught by RiderCoaches (experienced motorcyclists, certified by MSF).

The courses teach and improve these skills:

  • Straight-line riding, turning, clutch/throttle control, shifting and stopping.
  • Cornering, swerving and emergency braking.
  • What to wear for comfort and protection.
  • The effects of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Creating a sound traffic strategy for maintaining time and space margins.
  • Vehicle inspection and maintenance.

How to Find a Course

  • Contact your Installation Safety Office for RiderCourse scheduling.;
  • Find a RiderCourse near you by calling (800) 446-9227, or by contacting your installation safety office.



What you will cover

Basic RiderCourse

Two-day course

• At least 5 hours in classroom, 10 hours on an outdoor riding course.

• Motorcycle and helmet provided.

• Mandatory for all Army personnel.

• Teaches how to operate a motorcycle safely, emphasizing the special skills and mental attitude necessary for dealing with traffic.

• Course ends with a knowledge test and skill evaluation.

Advanced RiderCourses

One-day courses

• Use your own motorcycle and helmet.

• May lead to license waiver for permit holders.

• Hones the mental and physical skills needed for survival in traffic.

• Includes peer discussions on managing risk, increasing visibility, optimizing lane position.

• Covers protective gear, responsibilities, motorcycle inspection and care, and the effects of alcohol and other drugs.

• Practices the techniques of managing traction, stopping quickly, cornering and swerving. Includes an optional skill evaluation and knowledge test.

Military SportBike RiderCourse

One-day course/
Sport bikes only

• Riders use their own motorcycles.

• Should be taken after completion of ARC.

• At least 3 hours of classroom instruction and 4 hours of riding on outdoor range.

• Available at various locations.

• Focuses on teaching sport bike riders additional skills needed for their high-performance machines, including specialized handling and maneuvering.

Street RiderCourse

Half-day courses

• Class size limited to 4 riders.

• Students ride a variety of street routes under the supervision of an MSF-certified RiderCoach.

• Covers traffic flow assessment, intersection surveillance, and risk management.

• Refines SEE strategy, lane positioning, and cornering strategies.

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“Defensive Riding” – Essential Skills

Always be in full control of your motorcycle – be able to position your bike where you want, when you want.

Remain constantly aware of your immediate environment.

Anticipate what’s going to happen on the road ahead – predict behaviors of drivers.

When your basic riding skills are second nature, you’re free to concentrate on your surroundings and other important factors.


Remember that motorists aren’t looking for you.

Clearly communicate your presence and intentions.

Be conspicuous: bright clothing, light-colored helmet, reflective material.

Keep your headlight on at all times.

Use your turn signals when changing lanes.

Glance over your shoulder to check your blind spot before changing lanes.

SEEing – Search, Evaluate, Execute

Scan 360 degrees. Keep your eyes moving.

Scan the area ahead that it will take you 12 seconds to reach.

Concentrate on cars, trucks and pedestrians.

Look for problem spots: shaded wet or icy spots on the pavement, debris, potholes, gravel.

Be extra alert at intersections, on side streets, near driveways and in parking lots.

Be in control before and in curves.

Gathering Visual Information

Your central vision focuses on traffic, estimates distance and notices specific details on the road.
Peripheral vision helps you detect items to the sides. It is critical during emergencies for early warnings of animals or children running in front of you, or a car swerving into your lane.
Be systematic. Prioritize the hazards. Don’t let your eyes focus for too long on unimportant objects.

Following Distance

On good roads in ideal conditions, a minimum two-second space cushion between you and the vehicle in front of you gives you enough time to respond to sudden stops.

Increase the distance in rain, fog and darkness.

Lane Positioning

Separate your motorcycle from other vehicles. You will see emerging traffic problems more quickly and clearly, and thus have more time and space to respond.

The best lane position constantly changes depending on traffic conditions. Factors that affect your choice:

  • Increasing your ability to see and be seen.
  • Avoiding other motorists’ blind spots.
  • Setting up for and negotiating curves.
  • Avoiding surface hazards and windblast.
  • Communicating your intentions.
  • Providing escape routes.

The best place to be is usually near the left portion of your lane. You are most visible and have a cushion to respond to encroachment by drivers.

The center of the lane at busy intersections can be slippery from oil drips.

Use the left part of the lane when getting ready to pass on the left.

Avoid the left track when riding in the lane to the right of a large truck, because you are less visible to the truck driver and more exposed to windblast.

Don’t ride in another vehicle’s blind spot.

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Maintenance: T-CLOCS

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends a quick, pre-ride inspection of critical parts and systems, called T-CLOCS.

T = Tires and Wheels

  • The motorcycle’s only source of traction. Must be good quality and in top condition.
  • Check the air pressure regularly – your tires will last longer, wear evenly and provide maximum traction.
  • Regularly inspect the tire-tread depth.
  • Before each ride, check the treads for wear, cuts, embedded objects, bulges, or weathering.
  • Make sure the wheels are free of cracks or dents.
  • Check each brake alone; keeps bike from rolling.

C #1 = Controls

  • Controls include levers, the throttle, cables and hoses.
  • Levers should be tight in the mounts but still pivot freely. They should not be broken or bent.
  • Inspect cable ends for signs of fraying.
  • Cables shouldn’t be kinked. The throttle cable shouldn’t pull when the handlebars are turned.
  • Most modern motorcycles have two throttle cables (the second one pulls the throttle closed). Both cables must be working, or the throttle may stick open.
  • Inspect the hoses on hydraulic disc brakes for cracks, cuts, leaks, bulges, and chafing.

L = Lights and Electrics

  • The headlight should be aimed correctly on both low and high beams.
  • Check your turn signals, horn, and engine cut-off switch.
  • Adjust your mirrors properly and remember, they don’t completely eliminate blind spots.
  • Inspect wiring for cracks, fraying, mounting, and chafing of the insulation.
  • Look out for disconnected or broken wires.
  • Keep the battery fully charged and serviced.
  • Make sure the brake light works with both brake controls.

O = Oils and Other Fluids

  • Keep the engine oil filled. Change it per your owner’s manual. Engine oil also lubricates the transmission and clutch, making regular oil changes that much more critical.
  • Signs of trouble: poor starting, sluggish throttle response, and unusual noises.
    • Check all engine surfaces for oil leaks.
    • Check the levels of all fluids.
    • If your motorcycle is liquid cooled, inspect the coolant level.
    • Check the radiator and hoses for cracks or leaks.
    • Replace your fuel filter, and don’t let it get clogged with dirt.

C #2 = Chassis and Chain

  • Inspect the frame for cracks.
  • Raise the front wheel off the ground and move the handlebars from side to side. The forks should move freely and quietly.
  • Raise the rear wheel and inspect for signs of play in the swingarm.
  • Check the suspension for smooth movement, especially the fork and shock seals.
  • Make sure the drive chain is aligned and has the right tension.
  • Lubricate the plates and rollers on the chain at the end of a ride while it is hot.
  • Inspect the sprockets for hooked or broken teeth.
  • When to replace your chain:
    • When you can pull it away from the rear sprocket and expose more than half a tooth.
    • If it is rusted, pitted or cracked.
    • If it has kinked “tight spots.”
    • If the rear axle adjusters have reached their limits.

S = Stands

  • Make sure side and/or center stands retract fully out of the way when riding.
  • Many modern motorcycles have an engine cut-off that prevents the engine from running if the stand is down while the transmission is in gear.

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Group Riding

Before you go on a group ride, you need to have plenty of solo riding experience.

Three basic types:

  1. Goes to a specific destination.
  2. Follows a specified route (no fixed timetable or endpoint).
  3. Raises money for charity.

Arrive Prepared
  • Be on time with a full tank of gas.
  • Meet the group leader and sweep rider (who brings up the rear).
  • Study the route. Note fuel, meal and rest stops.
  • Ask what hand signals will be used during the ride.
  • Discuss what to do if riders get separated or if there’s a breakdown.

Riding in Formation

Side-by-side formations: Illegal in most states. Reduces safety margins.

Staggered formation: Maintains proper spacing, takes up less road space, easier for cars to see.

Staggered formations:

  • Can be tight or loose, depending on traffic (tight is best for heavy traffic).
  • Safety is more important than keeping the group together.
  • Leader rides in the left third of a lane.
  • Next rider stays at least one second behind in the right third of the lane.
  • The third rider stays at least one second behind the second rider in the left third of the lane, and so on.

Single-file formation is best if you need more room to maneuver (on curves or access ramps, in low visibility); change to a minimum two-second following distance.


Tighten the formation as you approach stoplights/stopsigns.

Plan to stop at a predetermined point if riders get separated, so they don’t feel pressured to run the light or speed to catch up.

Lead riders should slow down after turning to allow the group to reform.

Interstates and Freeways
  • Staggered riding is preferred.
  • Enter single file and then form up. Watch for entering and exiting cars that might cut through your formation.
  • Maintain your space cushion.

  • Groups can pass as a unit, provided the maneuver is safe and legal.
  • Lead rider should signal the lane change after determining that the group can pass. Other riders should signal one at a time as they move into the next lane.
  • Pass slower-moving traffic on a two-lane road one at a time.

In Case of Trouble
  • If you encounter debris, maintain the space cushion and following distance so that other riders can adjust their lane positions.
  • Staggered formations should transition to single file in hazardous areas.
  • If someone has to stop, trailing riders and the sweep rider should also stop. Then one of those riders can ride ahead to inform the rest of the group.
  • If someone leaves the group, the riders behind should each move up one “position.”

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Carrying Passengers and Cargo

Passengers and heavy or large loads alter a motorcycle’s handling, balance, acceleration and braking.

State requirements for passengers may include:

  • The motorcycle must have passenger footrests.
  • The motorcycle must have a separate seating area for a passenger.
  • Passengers must wear a helmet.
  • Minimum age.

Operator Preparation

Starting out may require more throttle and clutch finesse.

You may have to brake sooner and/or harder.

More weight over the rear tire may increase the stopping power of the rear brake, especially when you must stop quickly.

You’ll need more time and space for passing.

Motorcycle Preparation

The motorcycle must be designed to accommodate a passenger.

Check your owner’s manual. You may have to adjust your suspension and tire pressures.

Don’t exceed the bike’s weight limits.

Passenger Preparation

Passengers should:

  • Be tall enough to reach the footrests.
  • Mature enough to handle the responsibilities.
  • Wear same PPE as rider.

Give them complete instructions:

  • Get on the motorcycle only after you have started the engine.
  • Sit as far forward as possible without crowding you.
  • Hold firmly to your waist, hips, belt, or to the passenger handholds.
  • Keep both feet on the footrests, even when stopped.
  • Keep legs away from the muffler(s), chains or moving parts.
  • Stay directly behind you, leaning as you lean.
  • Avoid unnecessary talk or motion.

Carrying Loads

Keep the load low, secure and forward (over or in front of the rear axle).

Distribute the load evenly.

Stop and check the load occasionally to make sure it hasn’t moved or worked loose.

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Dangerous Circumstances



  • Having any alcohol in your body increases your chance of crashing by five times.
  • When you have a BAC greater than 0.05%, your risk of crashing is 40 times as high as when you are sober.
  • Penalties include impounded bike, suspended license, severe fines, community service, and the costs of lawyers and time away from work.

The law:

  • In all states, an adult with a BAC of 0.08% or above is considered legally intoxicated.
  • For riders under the age of 21, lower BAC limits (0.00 to 0.02%, depending on state) apply.

It doesn’t matter how sober you look, act or feel. The results of the tests on your breath or urine are what matter.

Minimize the Risks

When you drink, your riding skills degrade, but you think you are doing fine. As a result, you take greater and greater risks.

The smart thing is to not drink, period. Setting a limit or pacing yourself are poor alternatives, because your judgment is one of the first things affected by alcohol.

Consider the negative effects making a bad choice would have on your loved ones.

Control your riding:

  • Don’t ride to a place where you will be drinking. Arrange another way to get there and back.
  • If you ride there then drink, call a taxi or get a friend to drive you home.

Watch Out for Your Buddies

People who have had too much to drink are irresponsible. You must step in and keep them from hurting or killing themselves:

  • Use peer pressure from a group of friends to intervene. The more people on your side, the easier it is to be firm and the harder it is for the rider to resist.
  • Arrange a safe ride. Provide alternative ways for them to get home.
  • Slow the pace of drinking. Involve them in other activities.
  • Keep them from getting on their motorcycle. Serve them food and coffee to pass the time. Explain that you’re worried they’ll get arrested or in a wreck. Take their key.

  • Riding a motorcycle is more tiring than driving a car.
  • Don’t ride when you’re too tired. Fatigue affects your control of the motorcycle.
  • Wind, cold, and rain make you tire quickly. Dress warmly. A windshield is worth its cost if you plan to ride long distances.
  • Wise riders seldom try to ride more than about six hours a day.
  • Stop and get off the motorcycle at least every two hours.

*Source: Mishap data from recent studies in Florida, Kentucky, and Australia, and also from studies conducted by NHTSA.

Dangerous Surfaces

Your risk increases whenever you ride across:

  • Uneven or slippery surfaces.
  • Obstacles such as railroad tracks.
  • Grooves and gratings.

Uneven Surfaces and Obstacles

Watch for bumps, broken pavement, potholes or small pieces of highway debris.

Slow down or go around obstacles.

If you have to ride over the obstacle:

  • Slow down as much as possible before contact.
  • Make sure the motorcycle is straight.
  • Try to cross at a 90? angle.
  • Rise slightly off the seat with your weight on the footrests to absorb the shock with your knees and elbows.
  • Just before contact, roll on the throttle slightly to momentarily lighten the front end.

Slippery Surfaces

Poor traction comes from:

  • Wet pavement, especially after it starts to rain and before surface oil washes off.
  • Gravel roads, or where sand and gravel collect.
  • Mud, snow, and ice.
  • Lane markings, steel plates and manhole covers

Riding on Slippery Surfaces
  • Slow down (especially before curves) to stay within your skill level.
  • Avoid abruptly changing speed or direction.
  • The front brake is still effective, even on a slippery surface, if not over-applied.
  • Apply the brakes gradually and gently.

The center of a lane can be hazardous when it is raining. Ride in the tire tracks left by cars (often, the left tire track is the best position).

Dirt and gravel collect along the sides of the road, especially on curves and ramps.

Patches of ice tend to develop in low or shaded areas and on bridges and overpasses.

Stay off roads covered with ice or snow.

Riding at Night

Dusk is the worst time – your eyes (and the eyes of other drivers) are adjusting from daylight to headlights.

Be especially careful just after sunset.

Slow down, especially near intersections and on winding roads.

It is much harder at night to see the patch of sand or that piece of debris.

The distance between you and the vehicle in front is even more important at night. Give yourself room to react.

Keep your eye on the lights of the car ahead of you. Its headlights can improve your view and bouncing tailights can indicate bumpy roads.

Wear a clear faceshield without scratches. A scratched shield can make it difficult to see specific hazards.

You’ll encounter many more drunk drivers at night. Be alert for drivers doing odd, unexpected and dangerous things.

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Handling Special Situations

Emergency Braking/Stopping

How to get you and your motorcycle stopped as quickly as possible:

  • Apply both brakes to their maximum, just short of locking them up. Practice in an open, good-surfaced place, such as a parking lot.
  • If you have ABS, practice using your brakes so you can feel how they react in an emergency.
  • Keep the motorcycle upright and traveling in a straight line. Look where you’re going.
  • Don’t lock the front brake. If the wheel chirps, release the brake for a split-second, then immediately reapply without locking it up.
  • If your rear wheel locks up, don’t release the brake. If your handlebars are straight, you will skid in a straight line, which is OK. You have a more important priority: getting stopped.
  • Avoid hard braking during a swerve.

Braking on a Curve

Try to avoid this, but sometimes it is necessary.

You can brake (with both brakes) while leaned over, but you must do it with less force than if the bike is standing up straight.

For maximum braking efficiency in an emergency (when traffic and roadway conditions permit), stand the bike up straight then brake hard.

Coping With a Skid

If you’re riding at highway speed, encounter sand on a curve and start to skid:

  • Steer slightly in the direction of the skid.
  • If you’re leaned to the left and skidding to the right, turn slightly towards the right.
  • When you’re out of the sand, the tires will regain traction and the bike will stand up. Be ready.

If you’re braking for a stop sign and one or both wheels lock up, release the brakes for an instant, then reapply a little more gently.

At higher speeds, when traction is good and the rear wheel skids when braking hard, don’t release the rear brake.

If you’re accelerating and your back end is skidding sideways because the tire is on a slick spot and simply spinning, ease off on the throttle.


Make sure your rain gloves and rain boots fit. Poorly fitted ones make it harder to brake and shift.

Be most cautious when it first starts to rain. Water collects in small depressions in the road, and the oil residue from passing vehicles floats to the top.

Take a break when it starts to rain – it might stop in 15 minutes, and you won’t even have to put on your raingear.

After a while the oil will be washed off to the side of the road. However, traction on a wet surface isn’t as good as on a dry road.

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DoD Safety Rules

Department of Defense (DoD) Traffic Safety Instruction 6055.4 includes specific motorcycle safety requirements that apply to:

  • All military personnel at any time, on or off a DoD installation.
  • All DoD civilian personnel in a duty status, on or off a DoD installation.
  • All persons in or on a DoD-owned motor vehicle.
  • All persons at any time on a DoD installation.

Everyone must successfully complete an approved rider course before operating a motorcycle. The safety course must include:

  • The appropriate MSF or MSF-based State-approved curriculum taught by a certified or licensed instructor,
  • Hands-on training, and
  • A performance-based and knowledge-based evaluation.

Training is provided free to military and DoD civilian personnel, and you don’t have to take leave to attend.

In addition to the training requirements, the following personal protective equipment (PPE) is also mandatory, while operating a motorcycle or riding as a passenger whether on or off your base:

  • Helmets
    Certified to meet DOT standards, properly fastened under the chin.
  • Goggles and Face Shields
    Impact or shatter resistant goggles or full-face shield properly attached to helmet. A windshield or eyeglasses alone are not proper eye protection.
  • Sturdy Footwear
    Sturdy footwear is mandatory. Leather boots or over-the-ankle shoes are strongly encouraged.
  • Clothing
    Long sleeved shirt or jacket, long trousers, and full-fingered gloves or mittens designed for use on a motorcycle.
  • Garment Visibility
    A brightly colored outer upper garment during the day and a reflective upper garment during the night. Outer upper garment must be clearly visible and not covered.

The PPE for Government-owned motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) operators during off-road operation should also include knee and shin guards and padded full-fingered gloves.

Go to Index

Tools and References

Motorcycle Safety Foundation Material
  • www.msf-usa.org
    Click “Library/Safety Tips” at the top to access booklets, tips, checklists and more (printable or on-screen), including:

    • You and Your Motorcycle: Riding Tips
    • Motorcycle Operator Manual
    • T-CLOCS Pre-Ride Inspection Checklist
    • The MSF Guide to Motorcycling Excellence
    Click “State Laws and Reports” to access State Motorcycle Operator Licensing, and click “RiderCourse Info” to find course locations – or even take an interactive tour.

NHTSA Resources (data, news, studies):
  • www.nhtsa.gov
    Click on “Traffic Safety” at the top, then “Motorcycles” on the left navigation bar to access a collection of resources, news and research.

Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center:
  • https://safety.army.mil/mmp
    • How to find a local riding association.
    • Directory of organizations.
    • Best practices, success stories, events, training info.

    The purpose of the Motorcycle Mentorship Program (MMP) is to establish voluntary installation-level motorcycle clubs where less experienced riders and seasoned riders can create a supportive environment of responsible motorcycle riding and enjoyment.